Bandcamp, Soundcloud And The Portability Of Music

For many years,  musicians have been looking for decent ways of hosting, embedding, distributing and selling music online. The shops that sell MP3s, on the back of iTunes success, are myriad. As are the sites that let you upload a few tunes and put them on your profile, ala Myspace, Reverbnation etc.

But two services are now becoming essential in the web-savvy musicians tool-kit – BandCamp and Soundcloud.

I’ll blog about Soundcloud tomorrow, but let’s start withBandCamp: Continue reading “Bandcamp, Soundcloud And The Portability Of Music”

Promotion Is A Numbers Game (Get Heard!)

I’ve run across a few situations recently where people have been limiting the amount of their music that can be heard online. So here’s a few thoughts about free streaming music, and the business model involved:

Most of the research I’ve seen – as well as the conversations I’ve had – tell us that a reasonable percentage of people still buy CDs. They still want music on CD, and are going to buy the music they like.

Nothing that I’ve seen or heard tells me that music fans will pay money for a CD in order to hear music they’re restricted from hearing online – just so they can find out if it’s good or not – or that people who buy CDs are happy to sit and click ‘play’ over and over again on last.fm instead of buying music… Continue reading “Promotion Is A Numbers Game (Get Heard!)”

Last.fm-buzzing – day one results + free stuff :)

OK, one day into the last.fm buzzing experiment, and the first thing that’s clear is that this is going to take a little longer. Twitter buzzing takes a maximum of 20 seconds beyond reading the blog post. You find a link, you twurl it, you tweet it. Simple As.

I did, however, have twice as many listeners on last.fm yesterday, compared to my daily average, and also visits to this site are also still up way above the average… Not sure how much of that is interest in me or interest in the results of the experiment. Either is good!

The Last.fm thing has a bigger pay-off – you’re listening to a load of music you presumably find interesting – but it takes a LOT more time, from the actual listening time, to navigating the site, to deciding where to comment, to finding out how this ‘loving tracks’ thing works.

So, here’s the first ‘prize’ for those of you that haven’t got it already: A free album to download from Last.fm – it’s my most ‘ambient’ album yet, with two massive long ambient epics, and a few shorter tracks, all to be downloaded and listened to in your own time. All I ask is that you sign up for last.fm and listen to them with the plug in switched on (once you’ve got it, if you set it to auto-load when you turn your computer on, you don’t even have to think about it, it just logs what you listen to, and when you want it to, can suggest interesting new music, or generate radio stations for you – all for freebs, how cool is that?)

What’s also note-worthy is that no-one has – as far as I can see – commented on there yet – I guess there are too many choices. So today, if you read this, please comment on the artist front page

I’m trying to find a way in their ‘music manager’ software of tracking when tracks are ‘loved’… the most obvious page for me to follow is the Fans page – which auto-updates whenever anyone plays some stuff on there. It’s great to see in real-time what people are listening to (though also slightly alarming when people start with my earlier albums – for some reason, the top two most played tunes on there are from Not Dancing For Chicken, which came out in 2002… guess you can’t control what people listen to 🙂

Anyway, the experiment goes on, please, join in today if you’re on last.fm, or fancy signing up, download the free album, and enjoy!

The foolishness of Copying Radiohead (or 'why poor people vote for lower taxes')

[This started out as being my first post for MusicThinkTank.com, a site I’ve been invited to blog for, but ended up far too long to post there, so I’ll put it here, and post something else there… 🙂 ]

So Trent Reznor has gone one step further than he did with Ghosts, and is giving all of his new album away TOTALLY for free. No high dollar packages – at least for now – just free downloads, including putting massively hi-res versions on Bit Torrent, with a CD/Vinyl release to follow in July. (No mention yet of extra tracks on the physical release)…

Since Radiohead and Prince ‘gave albums away’ last year, we’ve all been talking endlessly about whether or not all music should be ‘free’, whether this is the new model that we should all adopt.

Two things are clear about Radiohead, Prince and Trent Reznor – (1) they’re all massively wealthy, and (2) all could guarantee massive press coverage for a move as ‘bold’ as giving a record away.

From those two points, I think it’s easy to see why modeling our marketing strategies against these artists is a non-starter. Unless you’re independently wealthy, or have the kind of day-job that affords you both the time and resources to tour heavily to symbiotically promote YOU via the free downloads and the tour, there’s not really a comparison financially.

And as anyone knows who’s ever paid for print advertising, column inches are incredibly valuable – the value of the coverage that Radiohead got for ‘giving their music away for free’ must’ve run into millions of pounds worldwide – a new Radiohead album is frontpage news in Q and Spin, but not in all the national newspapers around the world that covered it as a lead story, or on the television news programmes that led with it.

Copying the actions of celebrity millionaires is a bizarre kind of aspirational living – similar to that which drives Grazia-buying women to copy the fashions of the wives of sportsmen, and which causes millions of Americans vote for a political system that will leave them considerably financially worse off, ‘just in case they ever get rich’ – the myth of the American Dream, that anyone can get rich, keeps a lot of poor people voting for low taxation & lower government spending, because they’d hate to have their money taken off them when they get rich, despite the statistics showing that a minute number of people ever make the kind of quantum leaps in earnings that take even middle-income workers into the world of the super-rich. [I know there are a lot of other reasons why people might vote Republican or Libertarian, so please, no political comments on this one 😉 ]

Musicians are following suit, taking at face value the idea that Radiohead, NIN et al. gave away their music for ‘free’ and not looking at the massive value it carried as a press-generator for them in a way that just doesn’t work if you haven’t already had millions spent on you over years and years to get you to the place where your ‘free’ album is front page news.

Clearly, me ‘giving my music away’ and Radiohead ‘giving their music away’ are not comparable situations. Not at all.

For one thing, I’m a solo bass player. In a world where ‘pop’ music is driven by two main things – singing and drumming – I play instrumental music without a drummer, often without a fixed rhythm at all. Copying the broadcast-focussed actions of a bunch of zeitgeist-defining millionaire pop-stars is about as useful to me understanding my audience as putting videos of me reading Shakespeare on Youtube would be, just because a lot of people like Shakespeare.

Getting sidetracked by the aspiration to be a rock ‘n’ roll superstar is career suicide for an artist still needing to generate an audience to be monetized. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, in the new music economy, any strategy that relies on Broadcast media but doesn’t have millions of dollars to invest to get that rolling is doomed to failure.

Yes, there’s the chance that something you ‘give away’ will ‘go viral’. There’s also a chance that you’ll win the lottery and be able to pay for all that lovely broadcast airtime you so crave. Neither happen anywhere near frequently enough to be statistically significant when planning how to build an audience and connect with them.

[this is the point that this post becomes ‘Social Media Thoughts Pt 5’]

No, we need to think differently, and the bit that we do have control over is the conversation. The back-and-forth with our audience, our friends and our peers about what we do and why we do it, framing out art in a dialogue about what it is, why it exists and the ways that people who like it have to support it.

That’s what social media presents us with. I can answer in-depth questions about what I do on the forum, I can invite comment about what I do, here on the blog via comments, I can answer one-line questions and field comments about gigs via twitter, creating a buzz about it amongst those people who get to hear about it.

Last Tuesday I did a gig at Darbucka, with Lobelia, and with the Lawson/Dodds/Wood trio (apparently we’re changing the order of the names in the band name – it’s getting very Spinal Tap! 🙂 ), and with special guests Lloyd Davis and Miriam Jones. Almost everyone there got in for free. The guestlist was HUGE. We made so little on the door as to be insignificant. However, the audience were, for the first time in AGES, largely people who’d never seen me play before, and as a result I sold more CDs at the gig that I have in ages at a Darbucka show. Miriam sold some CDs too, and the buzz afterwards on Twitter was huge – way more people talking about that gig via Twitter than any previous gig I’ve done. I got a lot of messages from people who were really sorry to have missed it, wanting to know when we’re playing again, and a lot of people downloading the free albums, and others buying Cds and downloads from the shop off the back of the gig. And there’s a LOT of talk about the forthcoming albums from both Lobelia and I and the trio…

So am I anti-free? Clearly not, the gig was essentially ‘free’, for most of the audience, but it was a different kind of free. It was free with context, free with value, in that everyone who was put on the guestlist was grateful, came with a sense of excitement and expectation, and went home talking about the gig. The music became a social object, something with value and cache, all of which is there to be monetized at a later date.

The bottom line is Don’t give it away for nothing, but the currency you trade in doesn’t have to be money

The gig, the music and my relationship with the people there was framed within the context of a series of social media-enabled conversations. I’m not suddenly going to fill Wembley by doing this, but the desire to fill Wembley is a destructive greedy pipe dream that ignores the beauty and value in where my music, career, and relationship with my audience is at NOW. I may one day fill Wembley, but I may also one day meet a benevolent billionaire on a plane who decides to sponsor my music to the tune of £200,000 a year, expecting nothing in return. Neither are a good plan to base a marketing strategy on.

So, forget about the mis-use of the word ‘free’ as applied to the ‘music in exchange for press coverage and gig promotion’ that already-successful multi-million-selling Rock stars do, and start focussing on the conversation you can have with your audience, using your music as a social object around which to build value, cache, excitement, events and value added product/scarcity-based revenue streams.

(A LOT of the stuff in this post is talked about in the Creative Coffee Club podcast That I recorded with Penny Jackson – If you’re interested in this stuff, you really ought to listen to it… )

Downloading made easy, the Reverb Nation Widget way!

Not sure why I didn’t think of this before, but you can download all of Lessons Learned from An Aged Feline Pt II from the widget below. It’s a four step process, as follows:

1. click the word ‘songs’ at the top of the widget.
2. click on ‘What Was Going On’
3. put your email address into the box that appears (you have to sign up for my mailing list to get the download)
4. while the track is playing, click the little download arrow to the right of the play-timeline, underneath the tracklist.

Then repeat steps 2 and 4 – click on each song and click download. And you’ll have a shiny digital loveliness copy of LLfaAF Pt II.


Steve%20LawsonQuantcast

One of the fun things about doing this experiment with the free downloads has been listening back to two albums I’ve not listened to of mine for a long time. LLfaAF Pt II is the record where I fell in love with my fretted 6 string bass – The majority of the tracks on it are recorded with that bass. Melodically, it’s probably the most ‘jazz’ thing I’ve done, as I was quite consciously experimenting with more ‘outside’ lines and some bigger intervals in the melodies. It was nice to go back and rediscover a few things I was doing then that I haven’t done since, and am now wanting to reincorporate into my playing.

For those of you who are musicians wanting to make your music available in different places, Reverb Nation widgets are a great way to do it – if you go to my page and click on the widgets tab, you’ll see all the ones available. You can even make the one above the main music interface on your blog.

It’s a good way to manage collecting mailing list subscriptions in exchange for the free stuff, rather than just giving it away AND having to play for the bandwidth from your own server.

And of course, your legions of fans can include your widgets on their myspace page, blog, facebook page, bebo page. etc etc.

As the user-base of Reverb Nation grows, it may increase in native currency. For now, it’s largely about traffic you send to your page, and the widgets it makes available.

Though the nice thing about it being pretty small right now is that I’m at Number 2 in their jazz charts! – that’s 2nd out of 1789 ‘jazz’ artists. And that’s without even being proper jazz. Good work.

Creativity and Socially Networked Marketing – the good and the bad.

So much is being written about the egalitarian nature of online distribution, it would be easy to believe that all our worries as wannabe professional musicians are now over. We all know that we can get a myspace page and a facebook music page, a reverbnation widget and a last.fm page, just like the big boys. We can also get our music onto iTunes and eMusic, Amazon and Rhapsody, just by sending a CD to CDBaby and paying them less than $40 to set it up. Easy, huh?

Well, not quite. It’s true that the music economy in the last couple of decades has shifted from hundreds of acts selling millions of records to millions of acts selling hundreds of downloads, but two things are still problematic – monetizing the attention that we’re given, and building online spaces where attention is available in units greater than 30 second chunks.

You see, the huge problem with the MySpace/Youtube/iTunes generation is that it favours instantaneous gratification. It favours music that ‘wows’ in the first few seconds over music that takes a while to grow – in much the same way that mainstream pop radio has done for decades. It’s just that now, it’s not just the top 40 sector that’s expected to fit that paradigm, it’s everyone. There’s no special version of myspace for people with long songs, where the listener knows that it’ll take a particular piece of music a good few minutes to get going and reveal its hidden magic.

It’s true that to a degree it has always been thus – playing music to your friends in a ‘hey, check this out!’ scenario has always been a less comfortable proposition if you’re introducing them to the magic of Steve Reich or Brian Eno’s Music For Airports than if you were letting them in on the hitherto-undiscovered-to-them genius of Chic or Duran Duran. Pop music is by its very nature more immediate.

No, the problem here is a slightly more insidious one – it’s that all of us, ‘pop’ acts and more difficult to classify musicians alike, are being encouraged to market what we do via these channels in the same way, and music lovers are being encouraged to look for it in that way, and it can have a negative effect on the way we create and the way we find the music we love.

The fantastic potential that Myspace/Youtube/iTunes gives us to connect with an audience that we’d previously have needed a record label and radio plugger to connect with is still largely bound up in the ‘instant gratification’ notion of where the value lies in a piece of music. 30 second previews of tracks are useless for through-composed or gradually evolving music. 30 seconds of just about anything by Michael Nyman or Philip Glass isn’t going to show where the piece goes as it unfolds over the course of minutes rather than seconds.

How do we deal with this? I think acknowledging it is the first part of the answer – once the influence has been ‘named’ we can see if for what it is, and hopefully recognise the difference between our own creative urge pushing us towards brevity or accessibility (certainly no bad thing if that’s where you’re leaning) and the crippling of a deeper more evolved sense of where a particular piece of music should be going out of a fear that it just won’t work on myspace.

Download culture is wonderful in that it frees us up from the limitations of length – in both directions – that vinyl/casette/cd/minidisc had – we can put out tiny short works and not feel like we need to pad it out to fill a CD, or we can release massive epic hours-long single pieces if that’s really where our muse is heading. There’s nothing to stop you putting out 10 hours of continuous music, other than the limitations of the download speed of the person trying to get hold of it. We’re no longer constrained by pressing cost or media size, but we are still subject to the evolution of the music-discovery culture, and we all need to be thinking hard about how we build a space where we encourage people to investigate music that takes many listens to sink in, music that doesn’t reveal any of its complex magic in a 30 second low-res preview, but given time will seep into our consciousness and affect us in a unique way.

We need filters. We need

  • people and
  • media-outlets and
  • blog groups and
  • socially networked advisors who will recommend great music to us in the way that magazines used to.

Magazines still provide some of that, but they are very limited in their scope, because they are beholden to their advertisers and the broadcast nature of what they do, so are constrained by the need to write about people their core readership already know about. Those people aren’t really our concern. The ones who already have a career, a fanbase, a stream of self-generating traffic to their sites and online store. Finding out about the new Nick Cave or Pat Metheny record is rarely going to prove difficult.

No, we need microfilter channels, groups of 5,10,20,50 friends who get excited about new music and do the research for eachother, in the same way that Google Reader lets us search out news and blog posts for eachother.

There are already music blogs like this – audioblogs that feature MP3s on a daily basis. Some of them are fabulous. Many of them are less helpful in that they are basically a mashup of bit-torrent and blogger.com – illegal giveaways of whole albums that don’t actually help the band because they direct no attention or traffic in their direction. I was talking with a guitarist friend in LA in January who found that only a week or so after his latest album had come out, someone was giving it away on an audioblog based in Holland. The sales in the first few weeks of any project are important because that’s when the publicity is focussed on, so to be offering illegal free downloads of an album that close to the release date is particularly galling.

The new currency online is attention. Time is valuable, and it is possible to monetize that, through sales of CDs, downloads, DVDs, t-shirts, gig tickets, teaching weekends, meet and greets, promotional spin-offs, advertising revenue. But directing attention is best done by communities, by trusted advisors, but bloggers and twitterers and facebookists and friends of friends who know their subject and seek out the best new music around and tell people about it. And do it because then their love for it is propogated, the artform and the creators are encouraged, make enough money to make the next record, and the cycle of soundtracking a part of our lives is completed and begun again.

BUT if you’re a musician, unless the career part of being a professional musician is more important to you than the musician part, all of that has to be at the service of getting the word out about YOUR art. That which you hold most dear. Not an advert for what you hold dear, not a truncated, MySpace-ized version of it, but the real deal, however dense, complex, mellow, subtle or otherwise it is. Which brings me back to a point I’ve made a few times on here before – BE THE KIND OF FAN YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE – musicians need to be using the attention they have from their audiene to share the love, to let their listeners know about the music they love. It’ll come back, karmic-stylee, and will solidify your position as a guru of great music, a person of taste and discernment and the hub of a music-loving community. That’s how we build RELATIONSHIPS with the people who connect with our art – relationships built on shared knowledge and an unfolding understanding of where our aesthetic tastes overlap…

That is, as the yanks like to say, all good.

California part II

NAMM was over as soon as it began. It was definitely one of my favouritest NAMM shows ever. Getting to play all the Looperlative demos (and a Modulus demo) with Lo. and getting to hang out and play a lot with Claudio was just great. Having set times to play at Looperlative made the days much easier to plan, and thanks to a food intolerance, we didn’t make any trips over to Subway (about a 45 minute round trip), so stayed nearer the convention centre for food and coffee, thus giving us more time on the show floor.

As usual, the magic of NAMM was in the lovely peoples – the rest of it is 100,000 music gear makers and sellers lying to each other for a weekend to the atonal accompaniment of slap bass, poorly executed paradiddles and 80s guitar shredding. Thankfully, in 10 years of visiting NAMM, I’ve accumulated a circle of friends and acquaintances so lovely and so numerous that there were quite a few I didn’t get to see this year, or saw for such a brief time that it was actually more frustrating than not seeing them at all! So for those of you that I missed, I’m REALLY sorry. Hopefully we’ll be out in CA in the summer for some stuff – watch this space…

It was a really great NAMM for Looperlative, partly because most of the ‘competition’ were conspicuously absent from the show, but largely just because in its third NAMM show, the product has proved itself, there’s a solid user base who swear by it, Bob’s proved he can do the customer service and support required for a product in that market and price range and a lot of people are realising that to get a dedicated laptop looping set up that’s stable enough for stage usage, fast enough for low latency audio, and especially if you want to use it for processing your sound too, costs a heck of a lot of money. The software part of it may be a free download, but trying to run a looper on a laptop alongside all your other stuff and expect it to not crap out on you on tour is asking a heck of a lot from your gear… 2008 could end up being an amazing year for Looperlative…

In other gear news, Accugroove launched a new amp, that sounded great, and certainly bodes well for the hopefully-finally-on-the-way powered cabinets…

From NAMM, we spent a day in and around LA with Claudio and Alex Machacek – who inevitably found that had hundreds of friends and musical acquaintances in common. Alex gave us a copy of his new album, Improvision, a trio record with Matthew Garrison and Jeff Sipe. Really amazing stuff.

Then it was the long drive north to Oakland for a couple of days with Michael Manring, before our last gig of the tour at Don Quixote’s in Felton, near Santa Cruz. Things were looking really great attendance-wise before the show – threads on discussion boards with folks arranging to meet up at the show. Then the weather went to shit, and a snow and ice warning quite understandably curtailed the travel plans of quite a few people. And yet we still managed to pull a decent crowd, and played some of the most satisfying music I’ve been a part of in ages. I started the show solo, then Lo. joined me for a duo set, then after the break was Michael solo, then he and I duo, and finally a trio improv piece. The improv stuff both duo and trio felt really really great, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the video and hearing the recordings that were taken on the night… we’ll see if there’s anything useable in there… Also worth a mention is that the soundman at the venue, a guy called Lake, was one of the finest club engineers we’d ever worked with. A really friendly guy, with great working gear, and just fantastic sound! It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard Michael have, and the on-stage sound was amazing too… it makes all the difference.

And then we flew back to Ohio, and both Lo and I fell ill. Proper ill. Fever and shaking ill. Yesterday was a wash-out – having hardly slept on an overnight flight, I slept pretty much all day, and then all night too. Feeling much better today.

So tomorrow we drive to New York, and I fly home on Wednesday – feel free to email me now if you want to sort out teaching stuff for when I’m back! :o) It’s time to start booking some UK gigs now too.

free MP3s featuring Nels Cline…

My other latest recent musical obsession is guitarist Nels Cline. Best know these days as the guitarist in Wilco, he’s nevertheless been a mainstay of the LA experimental/free/out/weird scene for decades, as well as guesting with some big name dudes like Mike Watt (his guitar playing features heavily on Contemplating The Engine Room by Watt – an amazing album)

Anyway, there are a few free downloads on last.fm that feature him – first, there’s The Darkness Of Each Endless Fall by Stueart Liebig – Stig is an outstanding bassist from LA, and I just bought this track yesterday from eMusic, but on clicking on his name on last.fm just now, discovered I could’ve got it for free… So you can, and then go and buy loads of Stig’s music cos it’s amazing.

Also on last.fm are four free downloads from The Scott Amendola Band, featuring Nels. Again, I downloaded both albums from eMusic, but you can get tasters of them from last.fm, then go and buy them on emusic!

And lastly – same as before, I bought it on emusic before discovering the freebies – some of Nels’ own trio, The Nels Cline Singers, whose music is all instrumental, just in case the name throws you.

Get stuck in – you can get about an hour or so’s worth of free loveliness from that lot on last.fm. Seems like their label, Cryptogramaphone have free tracks from all their artists on last.fm – i’d recommend Jenny Scheinman, Alan Pasqua and Nels’ solo stuff as well, but it’s all worth checking out. Hours of spikey goodness.

Payplay.fm – download sales

Thanks to the lovelies at cdbaby.com, my music is on something like 42 digital download stores. The majority of my download sales still come from itunes, my own store and emusic, with some paid plays on napster and rhapsody.

But every now and again, a new one starts up that has some interesting ideas. So it is with payplay.fm, who do sales widgets, as well as free downloads and fun stuff like that for their users. Check them out, and if you want to grab a few tracks from my last album, you can do it here –

Easy..

If you’re a musician with albums out and your music isn’t on Cdbaby, you’re probably missing out on possible revenue, and a whole lot of great ideas… head over to cdbaby.net for more info…